HARTFORD - Jodi Zils Gagne, attorney and former Bristol councilor, will serve nearly four years in prison after a judge sentenced her on Tuesday in federal court, following heart-wrenching testimony from family members of the victims she took advantage of.
Gagne, 43, is free on $50,000 bond and is expected to report to serve her 46-month sentence on July 8. The prison sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release, and she will be required to pay $116,000 in restitution.
“I could not be more ashamed of myself and my actions as I am today,” Gagne said, weeping throughout her statement during her sentencing.
Gagne went on to say it is difficult to look in the mirror knowing what she has done, and that her behavior keeps her up at night.
“Please know that I apologize with everything that I am,” she said.
Gagne, a Bristol attorney whose law license was suspended in September, waived her right to be indicted in October and pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud. She nearly collapsed upon hearing her sentence on Tuesday, using the defense table as support while she wept and looked at her husband - who made an obscene gesture to media members outside the courthouse after the hearing.
Gagne has admitted to defrauding six people out of about $169,000, officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. In all of the cases, officials continued, she was a court-appointed conservator over the victims, and the money that was misappropriated should have been used for things like medical care, housing, bills, personal expenses and legitimate conservator fees. The scheme began sometime around May 2015 and lasted several years.
Several family members of the victims spoke during the sentencing Tuesday, imploring U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant to give Gagne a substantial punishment. One family member, whose loved one had multiple sclerosis when Gagne acted as his conservator and has since passed away, called it appalling that she could take advantage of him. According to federal officials, about $13,000 of his money was misappropriated.
“It is truly disgusting that she would steal from someone like this,” the family member said.
Another family member of the same victim said the man, having seen his father battle MS, wanted nothing more than to be able to provide financial support for his children. His life insurance policy, however, lapsed because Gagne told him he could no longer afford it, his family said. Gagne disputed this claim during the hearing, saying the man chose not to continue paying for the policy and that her insurance has since reimbursed his family for most of what the policy would have been worth.
The family member told Gagne that, in addition to being an embarrassment to lawyers, “you’re an embarrassment to the entire human race.”
Judge Bryant took particular offense to the family’s assertion that the life insurance policy lapsed, saying Gagne took advantage of “the most vulnerable people imaginable.”
“The law that she could not uphold will be upheld in this court today,” Judge Bryant continued.
Another family member told Judge Bryant that she received multiple calls from Gagne’s law office saying their loved one, a veteran who suffered from diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, did not have enough money for things like groceries. The family supplied the money for these needs without hesitation, only to later find out Gagne charged the man over $4,000 in conservatorship fees and stole his ATM card, using it to make personal purchases, family members said. That money should have gone toward his funeral expenses, they continued.
“She is a liar, she is a thief, she is a bully of the worst kind,” a woman related to the man said, adding that Gagne’s behavior is indicative of someone “devoid of a conscience.”
David Huang, assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut, said although Gagne has expressed remorse, her behavior would indicate otherwise. He said it appeared more as though she is just sorry that she got caught, something several of the victims’ family members expressed in their testimony.
“There has not been a dime of restitution paid to any of these victims since she pleaded guilty,” Huang said.
Huang added that one of the victims had gotten restitution before the plea, when Gagne’s insurance company settled his claim.
Acting as conservator for an 89-year-old man, Gagne allowed a $110,000 loan from the man’s estate to fund the Bristol Beat radio station, which was primarily run by her husband before it signed off the air in November 2017. The payment schedule for the loan was slated to last 10 years, despite the ward being 89 years old at the time, making it so that he would never receive full benefit from the promissory note, according to court documents.
The 89-year-old received restitution, but Huang pointed out that most of this money came from Gagne’s malpractice insurance, a loan from her parents and the liquidation of the Bristol Beat radio equipment.
Additionally, Gagne arranged the sale of two victims’ homes to her relative for less than their appraised value, officials said. The buyer then renovated the homes, sold them for a “substantial profit” and paid Gagne and her husband kickbacks, according to federal officials.
Gagne’s attorney, Francis O’Reilly, said his client is “horrified by her own conduct.” He asked for a sentence that is less than the 41 to 51 months prosecutors requested.
“She feels a tremendous amount of remorse,” O’Reilly said.
Gagne’s husband blamed her behavior on obsessive compulsive disorder, which he said feeds her depression and anxiety. He also said she does not have one malicious bone in her body.
Gagne’s mother-in-law also spoke during the hearing, asking for some lenience from the judge, calling Gagne a devoted mother who is an honest and loyal person.
Judge Bryant questioned some of the adjectives the mother-in-law used, asking her if she was even aware of what Gagne did.
“What I believe is Jodi made a mistake,” the mother-in-law responded.
Judge Bryant responded, saying she made “many mistakes over many years.”
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.